Price Points: A Vision from the Sixties

It’s the Sixties, it’s a municipal town centre – but where?




It’s a 1968 concept plan by the Vancouver firm of Ehling & Brockington for the Brentwood Town Centre.

Not exactly Sketch-up, is it?  But it was what Burnaby planners had hoped would occur around the pre-existing mall at Brentwood (map here) to fulfil their vision of a municipal town centre.

Burnaby had, in 1965, rezoned the area to the east, creating what David Pereira, SFU Urban Studies grad, quotes as “likely to be the largest single residential unit in Western Canada” – a complement to the largest mall in the province at the time.  Today, at both Brentwood and Lougheed, you can see intact some archetypal sixties architecture – megaproject style – on a scale unmatched elsewhere in the region.

Yes, this was a high time for suburban expansion.  But it’s easy to overlook how ambitious Burnaby’s dreams were, and how urbanistically advanced they were.  So advanced, in fact, that the market was not able to match their expectations.

It wasn’t, in fact, until rapid-transit arrived that the car dealerships along the Lougheed Highway could be shifted away to allow for the immense changes occurring today.  But only because Burnaby stuck with its original vision – and skilfully promoted the Lougheed alignment for SkyTrain that eventually prevailed (regardless of its merits as a regional transit strategy).

David, on his website, details the history of this era in Burnaby, providing links to documents, a succession of maps, and an interpretation of the politics and development forces that were shaping this region, playing on the ridges of Burnaby.

His conclusion for Brentwood:

There is little doubt that transportation has heavily influenced the pattern of development in the Brentwood Town Centre area. Prior to the introduction of SkyTrain, the area was a destination for used and new car dealerships, auto repair stations, and other auto-oriented establishments.

That said, we cannot dismiss the impact that a long term plan has had in shaping the area. It is likely that without the 1966 plan, the area would have been developed by the use that the private market would have preferred  – be it more single family residential or more low-intensity commercial sites. The municipality would not have been able to secure the area for its intended future re-purposing.

It was a plan that was produced in 1966 that has brought about considerable investment security to a suburban market, even despite global economic uncertainty. The municipal commitment to stable, long-range planning has sent very clear signals into the marketplace about what uses are acceptable in these Town Centres. And although these predictable plans may turn away some investors, the long-term benefits cannot be understated.

So great has been the momentum for change along the Millennium Line that, not surprisingly, it has come time to redevelop the project that started it all – Brentwood shopping centre.  The new owners, Shape Properties, have just released their proposal for redevelopment of the mall under the City’s Brentwood Town Centre Development Plan.  Details from their open house here.